Thursday, March 10, 2011

Visualize success

You’ve probably read about visualization, how “seeing the future” in your mind before it happens can help to make it so.  Well, it works on the tennis court also.

The first anecdote I ever heard about the power of visualization involved sports.  In Denis Waitley’s The Psychology of Winning, he tells the story of an American soldier that was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.  To survive his predicament, the conditions and brutal treatment, the P.O.W. occupied his mind with thoughts of playing golf.  He was already a low handicap golfer and, in his mind, he played his home course – which he knew very well – over and over again in his mind.  He visualized everything in great detail, imagined the entire environment – the grounds, every tree, sand trap, cart paths etc.; he concentrated on each aspect of his swing, “saw” the ball travel from when it was first “hit” as it “flew” through the air, “bounced” and came to rest etc.  He pictured himself shooting a great round of golf.  Because of this, he survived and, after being released, the soldier returned home to play this course as well as he ever had on his first time out, having lost none of his game despite his increased age and decreased physical attributes.  You may have heard a much more exaggerated version, that he’d never golfed before or that he broke par for the first time ever despite having been a relative novice etc.  In any case, the true story is still quite remarkable.

From personal experience, I can tell you that visualization has helped my tennis game.  During a match, e.g. when it’s game point and I’m serving, I visualize hitting my first serve just inside the center line and deep in the box – as close to “the T” as possible – and even “see” my opponent scramble to get to the ball before it whizzes past their flailing racquet.  If I miss the first serve, instead of thinking “don’t double fault”, I try to picture my second serve – e.g. hitting the wide side line of the service box – in my mind before tossing the ball in the air and executing the shot.  Then, after every match, I replay the key points (particularly my winners) in my head.  This exercise helps me to remember what worked (or what didn’t) and may even help to “groove” my stroke for similar situations that arise in the future.  My mind knows that my body can execute a given shot because it has successfully done so in the past.  While it doesn’t work every time, I have noticed that visualization has helped me to become a more consistent player.

I encourage you to try visualization and believe that it can help you on and off the tennis court.

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